Posts Tagged ‘Building Products for Old World Houses’

Details Make the Difference in Old World Design

November 19, 2008
Typical French detailing

Typical French detailing by New South Classics

Ever wonder what makes some houses really look French and others truly look Italian?  Of course traditional detailing of the period including roof pitch, building materials, and massing make up the bulk of what makes a particular style identifiable, but part of what makes an Old World design “authentic” is how the small details are handled.  Aside from the architectural detailing, there are countless other product details that will affect the ultimate success of your residential design.  The web has made it possible and easy to research any variety of products from hardware to lighting fixtures, doors to fireplaces, and fixtures to finials.  The difficulty is in narrowing down those choices to the select few that are appropriate for your “classic” Old World design.

Copper gutters and finials

Copper gutter and finial detailing

As a first step to get you going in the right direction, New South Classics has created a “Suggested Links” page to highlight a select group of products and services we believe may be among the best choices for creating the Old World effect you want to achieve.  This link may be a good start and serve as a “pattern” for other products from other sources and at all price levels.  This list is updated regularly as we discover new sources for products you may want to know about as you and your architect design your new home.

In addition to this page, we will let you know of additional building material or product suggestions we find that may or may not be on our suggested links page in future blogs.

If you’ve nailed down the architecture and your design for your old world home has the correct massing, materials, style, and feel of the authentic period you were hoping to emulate, you will need to be sure to follow through with the right details.  These details accent the primary elements of the design composition and make it interesting and authentic.  Because there are so many sources for everything you will need to dress up the house, I thought it may help to point out a few “standards” of Old World Design that will make your house look authentic.

french-roofing-5x7In my blog entitled “Roofing says a lot about a house” I addressed the issue of how important the roofing material is in any design.  I emphasized that roofing may be one of the most important design components of any house.  You will be able to find sources of appropriate roofing material there, and go to various web sites that will steer you to the region and style you are looking for be it slate, clay tile, synthetic slate, or composite material.

This blog will start at the top of the house by exploring the detailing that makes a French country house look more “French Country” from the roof down.

copper finials

copper finials

Many Old World homes especially in France, sport decorative elements called finials and ridge caps at the top.  Today, finials also serve as a decorative housing for lightning rods.  These are usually made of copper and come in all shapes and sizes.  They are a distinct feature of French architecture and turn a beautiful patina as they age.

copper roof vents

copper roof vents

Other accents that are not only decorative but functional in French architecture are roof vents.  These are more often than not made of copper and come in a number of shapes and sizes depending on where and how they are to be used.  Other copper ornamentation can be found frequently along the ridge of the roof in the form of ridge caps and weather vanes.


cupola by Copper-Inc

Many Old World Houses in America, England and France have incorporated cupolas atop their roofs for ventilation and decorative purposes, usually topped by a wood or copper finial or a weather vane.  These cupolas then and now were fashioned out of wood or sometimes copper which weathered to a soft green patina as shown in the photo to the left.

clay chimney pot

clay chimney pot

Chimneys were a very important part of the home and chimney detailing expressed the significance it played in family life.  Perhaps the most obvious ornamentation is the “chimney pot”which has a functional as well as visual purpose.  These caps or pots are available in copper or clay and come in a wide variety of styles typical of various regions of Europe and America.  These chimney pots come with a variety of optional accessories including wire screens for control insects and animals and caps to keep rain water out.

gutter and conductor head

gutter and conductor head on French Country house by New South Classics

Another functional yet aesthetic detail that helps make your house look authentic are gutters and conductor heads.  Typically, European and other Old World houses have copper gutters and downspouts.  Of course, there are many options available as “spin-offs” that look like copper in aluminum and other materials.  Nothing looks as authentic as copper.  Gutters can be rectangular, half round or shaped and gutter-heads are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Here, a 6″ half round gutter with copper straps is shown with a large copper conductor head to collect the water.

The leader pipe is strapped to the wall with copper strapping and completes the detailing to make this house look truly French country.

An English entry made inviting through attention to detailing

An English entry made inviting through attention to detailing

In considering the detailing of your Old World home, be sure not to forget the gardens, and other aspects that place your house in the setting that speaks of its design origins.  The smallest details such as plants, vines, rock walls, paths and lighting give the house character and make it believable.

In another blog, I discuss more ideas to achieve that authentic look with additional detailing suggestions and product sources.

For additional material that may be of interest, be sure to visit New South Classics at

Bruce Eason, AIA